Heights of passion in 'Wuthering Heights'

Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is less suited to film adaptation than her older sister Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre.”

While “Jane Eyre” is a romance, “Wuthering Heights” is a story of passion in all senses of the word.

Last year, director Cary Fukunaga made an admired revisionist film version of “Jane Eyre.” Now, director Andrea Arnold (“Red Road,” “Fish Tank”) tops it with her earthy, fleshy rendition of “Wuthering Heights.”

As in other “Wuthering Heights” movies, Arnold concentrates on the first half of the novel, not the second half that involves a next generation of characters.

But unlike other versions with period costumes and lovely sets, this one takes place in a more realistic setting: a leaky, drafty, unglamorous house on the Yorkshire moors. The men must duck their heads to get through the squeaky doorway, and the floorboards creak under their muddy boots.

Arnold boxes her images into a narrow frame with muted colors, creating a damp, chilling atmosphere.

Yet her most striking contribution is to make leading man Heathcliff black. In other versions, he’s merely an outcast and a Gypsy deemed unworthy of Catherine’s love, but here race becomes a more cruelly logical and resonant reason for him to face discrimination.

One night near a poor farm, a mysterious boy, Heathcliff (Solomon Glave), appears, and the farmer takes him in, even though the family disapproves. However, young Catherine (Shannon Beer) realizes she can nurture her first burnings of rebellion by befriending him.

They grow close, but fate conspires to keep them apart. When the farmer dies, Catherine’s racist brother takes over the farm and turns Heathcliff into a slave who must sleep in the barn.

The meat of the story comes years later, after runaway Heathcliff returns as a grown, well-to-do man (newcomer James Howson). Meanwhile, grown-up Catherine (Kaya Scodelario) has married wealthy, foppish neighbor Edgar (James Northcote).

While this Heathcliff is not an outright monster, he is monstrous; he torments animals and flies into terrifying fits of rage and self-pity. Catherine can’t tame him, he can’t give her security; this is the ultimate romantic tragedy, set at the place where love and death meet.

By cutting away the fancy decorations usually associated with literary adaptations, Arnold has stripped “Wuthering Heights” to its essence. This movie may not have frills, but its heart, full of pain and pleasure, truly beats.

Andrea ArnoldartsJames HowsonMoviesWuthering Heights

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Faced with surge in shootings, Chief Scott reenvisions SFPD’s Gang Task Force

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

Stores including Walgreens and Safeway are required to pay their employees additional hazard pay under a city ordinance that is currently set to expire later this month. (Shutterstock)
Grocery workers could gain additional weeks of $5 per hour hazard pay

San Francisco will vote next week on whether to extend a law… Continue reading

The fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Roger Allen by Daly City police on April 7 prompted protests in both cities. (Jordi Molina/ Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Daly City approves body-worn and vehicle cameras for police after fatal shooting

Daly City officials on Wednesday approved body and vehicle cameras for police… Continue reading

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

Most Read